May 3

Is Petra Worth Visiting? Inside Jordan’s Raspberry Ripple City

Jordan, Middle East

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An ancient city, hidden in the rock. A wonder of the world. A place of legends. Yet distance and costs leave many asking "is Petra worth visiting?"

The short answer is: YES! For the rest, keep on reading...

Is Petra worth visiting?

What is it like to visit Petra?

Dust rose from the ground as the horse thundered past and the sun began its ablutions. It painted pinks and pomegranates, amber, pistachio, charcoal and soft apricot rust across the walls of Petra before calling it a day and turning in for an early night.

A donkey stamped its foot in the chalky rock. Colour faded to grey, while my muscles trembled with fatigue.

Petra at sunset isn’t a place you want to leave. It looks beautiful, you feel hot and tired and there’s a professional army of touts with a menagerie of animals whose job it is to make you stay. Donkeys, camels, horses, chariots. They all promise to make your journey easier and to let you stretch out time itself.

Time has a habit of playing tricks on you in Petra, not to mention the truth. When I first saw The Treasury, strawberry stone columns peering between a tear of jagged darkness, I felt thrilled. As though I was uncovering an ancient legend myself.

Approaching Petra, Jordan

Recommended reading: The Madaba Mosaics Jordan; Making the Broken Beautiful Again

The Hidden Truth About Petra

In a way, I was. The legend part, that is. It turns out that despite the bullet marks and the odd Hollywood film, the Treasury isn’t really a treasury. Never was. Debate continues as to what its true role involved, but most scholars plump for the label of “ceremonial tomb.”

As for the ancient part, well, like the fast-growing ivy colleges in the US, it turns out that Petra’s not as old as it looks. The Treasury has celebrated a mere two thousand or so birthdays, a cheeky child with freckles when compared to the crumbly Egyptian Pyramids or the rocky giants of Stonehenge.

Right now, though, I have more than a few thousand years to worry about. I have about fifteen minutes.

The flashlight from an official brings me back to the present and I rally the sinews of my less than heroic muscles and attempt to stride but tend to hobble towards the exit.

Camel in Petra, Jordan

So is Petra worth visiting?

Is Petra worth visiting? You probably don't need me to spell out that my answer is yes. You may need me to tell you that it is vast. This city, built by the Naboteans, “inherited” by the Romans, lived in by the Bedouins and “discovered” by the Swiss – is colossal. Huge. A Roman-style theatre designed for around 3000 people registers as something of an afterthought, dwarfed as it is by everything else there is to see.

Petra spreads over 250 square kilometres (depending upon your source) - and the only realistic way in – and out – is by foot.

What You Need to Know

In fact, transport in Petra has become something of a political circus, with a near farcical arrangement of options. In the past, local Bedouin on horseback would charge through the kilometre-long gorge, with travellers crammed into their wagons behind. As Petra’s fame and popularity grew, however, problems arose since the gorge, or siq did not grow one inch.

Horse manure, accidents, rumours of hustling and intimidation...

“Eventually, authorities decided to ban horses in the siq altogether,” said my guide, perhaps an unreliable source himself as a horse-drawn chariot stormed past us into the gorge, drowning out his words.

“That’s different,” he said, although he never explained why.

The official line seems to be that Bedouin horses can travel the few hundred metres from the ticket gate to the entrance of the Petra gorge, with approval for a few carriages to travel on further than that.  A short - and rather stunted - effort.

Horses on a Visit to Petra, Jordan

The situation has irritated many, exasperated that the cost of the ride is now factored into the ticket price, regardless of whether you use it.

How to visit Petra Jordan in a horse-drawn carriage

As a first time visitor, though, I found the sight of the horses incredibly atmospheric. They’re ridden with a ferocity and abandon I’d not seen before. Flowing robes and jet black hair streaming into the wind. Clouds of purple-pink Petra dust thrown into spirals and hanging in the heat-soaked air.

It’s what dreams and legends are made of.

But perhaps not thin cotton trousers. To preserve the skin on my thighs, I staggered on towards the gate, feeling a mixture of both gratitude and joy.

For my time in Petra wasn’t over yet. I would soon be back - for Petra at Night.


The magnificent stone of Petra Jordan

Goat in Petra, Jordania

Petra JOrdan Red Rock

Camel in Petra, Jordania

Petra Jordan Monastery from Afar

Looking up at the monastery in Petra, Jordan

The Treasury at Petra, Jordan

 

Disclosure: I visited Jordan as a guest of Visit Jordan.


How to visit Petra - is it worth visiting Petra in Jordan

10 TOp TiPs TO MAKE PETRA WORTH VISITING

1 - Wear comfortable clothes. You will spend A LOT of time walking and standing and there are few opportunities to rest.

2 - Take account of the weather in Petra, Jordan. It is HOT. Take water, sunscreen, hats and long-sleeved tops and trousers that run to the ground.

3 - Embrace the history of Petra, Jordan. Either book a knowledgable guide or read up first (check out this piece from National Geographic on the Lost City of Petra.)

4 - Plan nothing else for the rest of the day.

5 - Stay at a hotel near Petra, Jordan to make the most of your time. I stayed at the Movenpick Hotel Petra which is almost as close as you can get. That way you can be up and out by dawn and beat the crowds.

6 - Be prepared to take a LOT of photos. Batteries charged. Spare film at the ready if you're the retro travel type.

7 - Keep an eye on the time and check the closing time as you head in. Distances are huge so make sure you can get back to the entrance gate in plenty of time.

8 - Plan to arrive the night before and, in my opinion, leave the night after. To make the most of a visit to Petra, it pays to take your time.

9 - Don't miss the Petra at Night experience. It's simply amazing.

10 - If you're looking for something else to do while you're nearby, take a Jordanian cooking lesson. 


Tags

UNESCO World Heritage Site


  • Great photos and excellent writing. You really captured it. But no mention of the 800 steps to the… I don’t even remember what it was, I was so tired!

    Reply

  • I first visited Petra about ten years ago and immediately fell in love with the place. I have been back a couple of times since, the latest in October 2012, as an independent traveller, when I spent three days exploring much of the area not normally visited by tourists. It was an amazing experience with hardly another person to be seen.However I was saddened because the passage from the Siq to the Monastery is now so commercialised. I understand the local Bedouin need to make a living but I think the Jordanian government have got the balance wrong.

    Reply

    • The decisions about how to manage Petra have certainly stirred up controversy lately. Like you, I appreciate the need to earn a living (for both the locals and the country) but it can be tricky knowing where to draw the line. At least there are still places (by the sound of it, from your words) that tourists can still visit to get away from the crowds…

      Reply

  • Jordan is something magical. Never felt so peaceful and uplifting as in this country. As soon as you leave Jordan, you want to come back again!
    Can’t stop exploring this beautiful corner of the World!
    Thanks Abi! :)

    Reply

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